Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The movie tells the story of Don, a 19 year-old, and his journey from his evangelical Christian roots in Texas to the anti-God and anti-religious world of Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
The film's satirical swipes at Christianity brought lots of laughter from the audience, including from me, but then, about midway, a shift in tone occurred, when Don finally meets an actual committed Christian at Reed, and not a closeted one.
Penny, the "out" Christian, goes to church--apparently to an Episcopal Church--takes her faith in Christ seriously, and strives to live the life of love that Jesus lives and teaches as the way to life in abundance. Penny spends her Christmas break working with refugees in Kashmir.
She shows Don that it is possible to be a Christian authentically and with integrity, despite Don't own personal experience: Don has just learned that his mother is pregnant by his home church's married youth pastor, who had been his friend. Now, he sees for himself the hypocrisy of the supposedly religious and has all the more reason to join in the rejection of Christianity, so popular among the other college students.
Toward the end of the film, Don has an epiphany, aided by the loving witness of Penny. It takes place in a mock confessional, part of a week on campus of mock-everything-that-is-holy. He realizes that his mother is human, that she needs his love. Love is what true religion is about. Not condemning others who fail to love, but taking responsibility and loving others, as he had been taught for all those years in church.
"Blue Like Jazz" critiques both the wrongs of Christianity and the wrongs of secularism. It takes a lot of punches, too. In the latter case, secularists ridicule what they don't understand and reject what challenges their secure world view--that science, for instance, is the sole source of meaning and value. There's a terrific scene in the film where an atheist and a theist debate, Does God exist? Yes, he does, I could almost hear Don say.
More significantly, those who reject and condemn faith might do so because of deep hurt and disappointment. This is the case for the Pope, Don's friend at Reed, who has been chosen by the students to speak for God for the year. Ironically, the Pope is an atheist and is vehement in his attacks on God, Christianity, the church, and especially on the Roman Catholic Church, because as a child, he was raped by a priest in the sacristy. (The Pope and Don put a giant condom on a church steeple and post a sign that says, "Don't reproduce.")